LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Catcher Alex Avila was an All-Star last season, when he had a breakout year that helped the Detroit Tigers win the American League Central title.
His reward? Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Avila will play less this season even though Victor Martinez is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Avila played in 141 games last season and batted .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBI. He also got to learn the pitching staff while Martinez spent most of the time as designated hitter.
Martinez and his .330 average and 103 RBI will be missed, but with the addition of Prince Fielder, things could equal out.
Leyland said he never worried about playing Avila too much down the stretch, the catcher struggled with only three hits in 11 games in the postseason while suffering several nagging injuries. He said he was determined to give Avila plenty of rest this year.
“I played him much more than I should have last year,” Leyland said. “I beat him up way too much last year. People don’t realize how tough he is.”
The Tigers are without Martinez, so they will depend on Gerald Laird as the backup. Laird spent 2011 with St. Louis, but played in only 37 games.
Avila said he wants to play as often as possible. Now that he has solidified his job as the starting catcher, he said he doesn’t have to worry about playing time.
“I thought I was playing pretty well the last month of the season,” Avila said. “I had some pain in my knees but I never worried about it. I just went to work, checked the lineup card to see if I was on it, then went out and played.”
Avila said that being a catcher is a day-to-day job and he expects to play every day. Being an occasional designated hitter is no big deal, Avila said, but he would just as soon be behind the plate. It’s a job he relishes.
On Thursday, after a routine workout, he had the dirtiest uniform in the Tigers locker room. Avila said it was just another day in the life of a catcher.
“I am maturing as a catcher and that is every day,” Avila said. “That’s my duty, to get dirty and do what I have to do.”
Notes: OF Austin Jackson, who struggled with a .249 batting average last season, said he was “tweaking” his swing this year and trying new things. Jackson’s average fell 44 points from his 2010 rookie season . Friday is the first full-squad workout day, but most of the Tigers position players have already reported. An exception is Brandon Inge who may play second base this season. Inge is normally an early arrival. Leyland said he expected the entire team to be in Lakeland on time . Leyland said the Tigers will not suffer on defense despite moving Miguel Cabrera to third base after the acquisition of Fielder. He praised Jhonny Peralta’s defense at short.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)